Perceiving external factors

So, how is it going? Are you still keeping up with the healthy eating? Doing more exercise? Cutting down on drinking? Have you applied for that new job? How are you doing in keeping your New Year resolutions? Or maybe you resolved to make no resolutions because you know how difficult it is to change what are often habits of a lifetime. A recent newspaper article stated that these milestones in the calendar, such as New Year, Easter and the end of the summer holidays, are important because they remind us to stop and think about what we are doing and where we are going as individuals. They give us markers to change course, if that is what we want or is required.

Whether we like it or not, we are creatures of habit and routine, even when we try not to be. In my efforts to maintain a certain level of fitness, I have always enjoyed going out for a run. Looking back I realise that, although I may vary the distance, I always tend to do the same few routes and in the same direction. In my defence, there is some rationale behind this rather than some obsessive-compulsive behaviour: I have been able to time myself and monitor improvements or a decline in performance. Nevertheless, the big changes in my routes have been imposed by external factors. Some are of my own doing, such as moving to a different area, whilst others I have no control over, such as injury or health restrictions, or a large shopping centre being built on the farmland I used to run around!

Recently, one of these external factors has led to my having to temporarily (hopefully) slow down and be satisfied with just walking. And the lesson obtained from this enforced deviation from normal practice is that even a little change in routine, such as walking on the opposite side of the road to that which you normally gallop (only joking) down, gives you a different perspective and you see things that you hadn’t noticed before. It is the same if you cycle or run along a commute that you would normally drive down.

In the world of work, external factors can have a big impact on both you and the company. The key to survival is not to continue unabated until the external factor lands unexpectedly on top of you, but to turn the above lesson on its head: look at your work/actions/product/company from a different perspective – stand on the opposite side of the road and see if you notice something you hadn’t been aware of. This is not an easy thing to do. In the first instance it can be achieved by taking time out and asking: “What has changed or is changing since I/we first started doing this activity?” This is important in ensuring you stay safe when doing any job on plant. If nothing has changed, then at least you can proceed in the knowledge that you have checked that it is the right thing to do, rather than blindly doing it because you have always done it that way.

For companies, one way of changing perspective is to look at what companies in other industry sectors or other fields are doing and see if there are any lessons that can be gleaned from them. Bringing in someone who has worked in a different environment is also a good way of obtaining a different view of your world. Of course, you have to be prepared to listen to their view and be open-minded enough not to dismiss it too readily if you don’t like what they say. Innovation comes from seeing things in a different light and there are many tools designed to help you generate new ideas for your business. One example is the ‘Super Tanker’ exercise. In this exercise, you identify an external trend that is occurring and, like a super tanker, will not change course. You then examine how this trend could impact on you and your business and how you could benefit from this trend.

A recent paper at the 2013 Canadian NDT Conference in Calgary has done a lot of the thinking for you. Instead of using the metaphor of super tankers, the authors, from Frost and Sullivan, refer to ‘Mega Trends’, which is evidently the latest business buzzword. They define these mega trends as ‘transformative, global forces that define the future world with their far-reaching impact on business, societies, economies, cultures and personal lives’.

I will leave you to garner a new perspective from examining the Mega Trends ‘City as a Customer’, ‘Connectivity and Convergence’ and ‘Innovating to Zero’, but I will highlight one trend that was identified when I first applied the super tanker exercise many years ago: ‘Ageing Population’. This is impacting on me already, giving me a new but slower perspective! How is it impacting on you and NDT? Are we doing enough to address this?

Please note that the views expressed in this column are the author’s own personal ramblings for the purpose of encouraging discussion within the NDT Newspaper. They do not represent the views of AMEC or the HSE who funded the PANI projects.

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